|Two girls play checkers with Coke and Sprite bottle tops|
Simply put, there is no simple life for children here in our communities. Many of them live alone or with an aunty or grandmother or some other adult who has taken them in. Many don't have food to eat or someone to pay their school fees or even someone to tuck them in at night and say, "You've nothing to fear, I won't let anyone hurt you."
Nights in these communities can be dark and long. It's not just lack of electricity or light, it's the darkness that comes when adults think of children as their playthings, those to be taken advantage of for their own sick pleasure and then tossed aside - frightened, damaged and hurt. Nights can be long for children whose mother is doing her best but can't afford a roof without holes, that allow in the rain and the rats, causing a night to be spent standing, not sleeping, in any dry corner. Nights are long for children who have buried their parents, are grieving and lonely, and have no one to care for their basic needs.
Care workers are lights in communities where the darkness lasts long after the sun rises. They provide security for the children by showing the community that someone cares for these kids and will know if they've been hurt or taken advantage of. They bring a sense of hope and family to children who spend too many hours alone, wondering where their next meal will come from or how to get soap or toothpaste. They provide a place for children to come and be kids. A safe place in the community where children are fed a nutritious meal, where someone notices if they don't show up, a place to go to school, and a place for homework to be done and someone to help them when they need it. A place to play games and laugh and run and be included, not dissuaded or ignored, shooed away or run off.
This week, being back in Zambia, is a gift to me as always. I've been in homes of people that have cared for their neighbours until their death, where unrelated people take on the burden of another child, simply out of mercy and goodness. I sat with mothers who have buried their child since I was last here, children who have buried their parent or a sibling, and I have continually wondered how it is that my life has come to intersect with these in such an important way. I know that God has brought me back again and again for my own benefit...to learn and grow and develop compassion. I know, too, that being here has brought encouragement to those who think that no one knows or cares. This week, in the midst of the rains that Zambia continues to pour out on us, I have seen that in many ways, I'm always here to learn. To bridge the gap that finds me sleeping under a mosquito net, in a bed, without a leak in the roof above me. I just can't seem to accept that, though we've found each other and see that our worlds can be bridged by love and acceptance and relationship, we can't find a way to really live simple, balanced lives.